Los Gatos Fires and the Los Gatos Fire Department

fire articleLos Gatos Fire Department History

Fire was a major danger in Los Gatos in the 1800s. Buildings were made of wood, including sidewalks (think boardwalk), and most appliances – light, heat, cooking – still used an open flame. Fire was a greater, more present danger than local wildlife (cougars and grizzlies). In its early years, the town relied on bucket brigades, finally graduating to two volunteer Hose Companies and a Hook and Ladder Company in around 1886. The Cold Spring Water Company of Los Gatos filed to incorporate in December 1890 with the stated purpose to “introduce water for domestic and fire purposes into the town of Los Gatos.”. In 1888 the town passed an ordinance to provide for the organization of a dedicated Fire Department, and perhaps just in time. A major cartridge fire in July of 1891 leveled many of the town’s businesses, and saw the shift of the business district from the east bank to the west bank of the Los Gatos Creek – and it has remained so to this day.

While many major fires destroyed homes, stores, hotels, and even an opera house, the worst is often said to be the 1901 fire.

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Charlie Parkhurst Wasn't The Only One!

September 26, 2007

Los Gatos Had a Cross-Dressing Crook Captured in 1895

Thanks to Google Alerts, “Live in Los Gatos” doesn’t have an excuse for missing much that comes online about the Town. This morning I was directed to an article in the San Jose Mercury News that discussed a bit about life in the 1890s. A photo of women with enormously poofy sleeves was displayed, along with a discussion about their clothes generally. It wasn’t all that interesting.

But…

At the bottom of this article is a section titled “112 Years Ago” and that’s where the interesting stuff was buried.

Apparently Charley Parkhurst (who was a female dressed as a male her whole adult life), a stagecoach driver discussed in this blog previously in “Surprises of the WIld West“, wasn’t the only one back in the wild west days with a secret! Charley Parkhurst, though, was an honest worker, a teamster who couldn’t have worked in her chosen profession without some deception. (She was also the first woman to vote in the US!)

In the case of Louise Elizabeth Myrtle Blaxland Murton Matson, though, it may have been work that motivated her, but not honest work. Imagine her jailmates’ surprise when she was thrown in with them in January of 1895 and they realized that the guy passing bad checks on Main Street in Los Gatos was no man at all. Apparently it was her mother who thought up the idea that if she dressed like a man, she could get away with her crime (what a family!). The judge must have been baffled as to what to do with this case.

Instead of sentencing her to serve time in the jail (perhaps there were no women’s facilities?), he released her with an order to dress like a woman.

Some would argue, both then and now, that this would be quite punishment enough.